I recently saw a documentary “A Life on Our Planet” narrated by David Attenborough (Hughes, Scholey, & Fothergill, 2020). In it, he put forth a notion that unlike other flora and fauna, humans do not need physical change in their bodies to create changes to the world around them. Humans can do that, but humans can also impart knowledge from one to the next generation so that the next generation can tame the world using the learning of the previous generation.

To me, this is an apt description of the role of education in human’s survival. It also brings out the notion of learning as a community endeavour; for a generation is a community. It is as if the nature and our ancestors are telling us to learn as a community.

At the same time, I am mindful of negative characterisation of learning in a team. There have been times when students, often in confidence, vent their frustration at team members. To be clear, there are students who praise each other in a team. However, one cannot dismiss that there are also dysfunctional teams in learning, which feels unnatural considering the evolutionary description of learning as a community.

The findings of Capdeferro and Romero (2012) qualify and quantify this negative characterisation. In that study, various sources of students’ frustration were investigated. It boils down to one thing: participation asymmetry. Do other team members take more than they share? Do I put in too much effort while other team members do not? It is not unique to learning and certainly not unique to online experience. For me, this phenomenon is another attestation of “The Tragedy of the Commons” (Hardin, 1968).

However, after following reading and discussions on the topic of Learning in Communities in ONL, I revisit this topic and now consider whether that was the only explanation, especially in the context of learning. I now come to think that it is important to understand the level of connection that student wants to operate. The four stages outlined by Siemens (2002) (communication, collaboration, cooperation and community) help to situate where students may want to position themselves in team learning.

It is possible that one student in a team aims for collaboration while the other team member aims for community, hence creating perceived participation asymmetry. This may be more pronounced when learning is assessed. I am quite intrigued if there are studies that examine the issue of learning in communities compounded with assessment. I think that will be very relevant to university.



Hughes, J., Scholey, K., & Fothergill, A. (Directors). (2020). David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet [Motion Picture].

Capdeferro, N., & Romero, M. (2012). Are Online Learners Frustrated with Collaborative Learning Experiences? International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(2), 26-44.

Hardin, G. (1968). The Tragedy of the Commons. Science, 62(3859), 1243-1248.

Siemens, G. (2002, October 8). Interaction. E-Learning Course. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/Interaction.htm

Learning in Communities